This week, someone I know thanked me for raising an African American male. This statement took me by surprise and it's something that I am still processing. I have been told that I have been making choices that are atypical for an African American child.
If you meet my son in person and get to know him, you realize though that his actions have motivated most of my choices for him. My son loves the water so he takes swimming lessons. After seeing horses repeatedly on Elmo, he started to talk non-stop about horses, so now he is experiencing horse back riding. My son fell in love with chickens when he saw them in person for the first time. So we talk about chickens and impersonate them often. I am trying to follow his lead on things because I believe strongly that children have their own inner compass. It's not my job to dictate the direction of his life, but to encourage him to follow his passion.
Of course, some things we have tried and well, they did not take. For example, soccer tots. My son loved soccer tots with the open field, lots of toys and heaps of little people his height. When it came time to do the soccer drills with the coach, my son wanted to use the field cones as microphones. He imagined the hula hoops that the other children were using for shooting drills were actually lawnmowers. On his last day, the coach said good bye to kids with kudos. "Wow, your kid handles the ball so well" or "Your kid is a natural at dribbling the ball". My son got, "He is always so happy".
Yep. We are finding our way. I am glad that I have African American friends to make suggestions and become a presence in his life, but in the end, my son is leading the way here. You don't have to thank me. I am figuring this out as I go.
I found myself this week reflecting on the words shared during the adoption panel last week. A man shared a story of putting his young daughter to bed. While he kissed her good-night she stated, "Daddy, I don't want to have brown skin anymore."
Every parent in a transracial family knows that one day the conversation is coming. Your child will notice that you two have different skin color and that you don't match like the other families around you. You worry that you will find the right words to say. Did you read the right books to prepare you? Will you say the right words in the right order that make my child both proud of their race and your family? Since this conversation comes without warning, will you been in the right frame of mind to handle this situation?
Most days, I will be honest, I don't worry. My son is going on 19 months old. He loves all things Elmo, chickens, water, graham crackers and sticks. Sometimes when he holds my arm while he is fading off to sleep, I stare at the combination of our skin tones. He has this lovely dark-honey brown complexion and I have white skin with dabbles of pink with assorted age spots and freckles. It's so lovely to see how our skin tones bring out the best in one another's complexions. People are the same way. Our personalities and likes are different, but together we can bring out the best in one another. I just hope when that conversation comes up with Jules that I can help him understand this.
Back to that father putting his daughter to bed.....Well, he thought, "Oh no, here it is. Here is that conversation." He replied, "Oh honey, what color do you want to be?" She replied, "Blue, I want to be a smurf."
Children will realize their race. They will rely on their parents, the world around them and in the end, themselves to sort through the issues and make their own choices about their race. As parents, all you can do is be honest with grace and let the child guide the conversation so that it meets his/her needs. Because sometimes, the child just wants to be a smurf.